The Battle of Theologies

Do you ever have those books that you can’t stop reading because of the way they engage your imagination? That’s the way it’s been for me recently as I’ve read through the book of Job. I’m currently on my second read of the book in two weeks, and my mind is filled with more questions and reflections the more I read it. I wanted to share one of the reflections I’ve been having with you, since I think it’s incredibly relevant for us today.

The book of Job is the story of a righteous man who experiences a terrible series of events from the hand of God. Job has a vast amount of wealth (Job 1:3), a large family (1:2), and a devout heart (1:5). During an assembly of God’s angels, Satan (or the Accuser) enters into the meeting. God then asks Satan if he has seen his servant Job during his roaming of the earth, since Job is a man of exceptional integrity, one who “fears God and turns away from evil” (1:8). God then allows Satan to test Job’s righteousness through a series of tests, including the death of Job’s children, the loss of all his wealth, and debilitating sickness. The rest of the book of Job consists of his three friends attempting to “sympathize with him and comfort him” (2:11). Their first action is to simply sit with Job, not speaking a single word because of the weight of Job’s suffering (2:13). Their first fault comes when they start trying to give reason to Job’s suffering.

The rest of the book of Job is a battle of theologies, because Job and his friends debate the true reason for Job’s sufferings. Job is adamant about his own integrity, insisting that he is a righteous person. His friends cannot conceive of a world where a righteous person suffers from the same events that Job experienced. Rather, their belief is that God “repays a person according to his deeds, and he gives him what his conduct deserves” (34:11). The real clincher is that Job’s friends are not wrong (see 2 Corinthians 5:10!), but neither is Job. God announced from the beginning of the book that Job was “a man of perfect integrity” (1:8), so we know that Job is not being punished by God because of his sin.

My point in bringing this up is not to answer the theological/philosophical problem of evil (“If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then why does apparently meaningless suffering occur in the world?”). My desire is to point out that our world is full of competing theologies. We exist in a world where views about God abound, and we are in a constant battle with these competing theologies. Does it really matter what religion a person chooses? Don’t all religions point to the same God and the same salvation? We even struggle with questions that relate to the book of Job. Is God punishing me for my sin whenever I lose my job? Is my terminal illness really evidence of God’s displeasure? These are questions that we face from our culture and our own lives, and there are multiple answers to these questions. The real question is, “Which one of these answers am I going to believe?”

The book of Job teaches us two attitudes that we should have towards the development of our theology in the midst of the multiple theologies that exist. These attitudes work themselves out both in our relationship with God and to other people.

Job made a conscious decision to bring his doubts, anger, and hurt to the throne room of God (16:18-22). Even when there was no mediator between Job and God and even when it felt like there was a dark shadow between earth and heaven (23:8-17), Job knew that his questions must go straight to God because man’s wisdom would not suffice. Brothers and sisters, take heart that in the gospel of Jesus Christ we have a firm foundation. We have a God who can handle our deepest fears and questions. We have a God who reigns supreme over all the earth. We have a mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5), who gives us free access to God. We have a God who knows suffering because he took the form of a suffering servant named Jesus. This allows us to run to the throne of grace with boldness, so that we can receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

On the horizontal level we have confidence to proclaim our theology to other people. In the battle of theologies, our God has given us answers. Oftentimes, I am tempted to stay silent in theological engagements with non-Christians, thinking that anything I say would be unpersuasive or too pushy. But our God has given us answers. We can boldly proclaim the gospel of God’s goodness and grace to people, knowing that God has given us access to himself through Jesus. So brothers and sisters, proclaim the gospel with confidence, knowing that our suffering God empowers you through his Spirit.

The book of Job ends with two speeches given by the Lord himself to address Job’s questioning. Much of Job’s tension has been driven by this question throughout the book: “Is God just in the midst of my suffering?” And the answer the Lord gives is a resounding, “Yes” (40:8)! Spoiler alert: because of this answer, Job gets totally humbled. Because even in the midst of great suffering, God is never unjust, and we can never justify ourselves. This is the most humbling fact of life. This can lead any person to the same confession that Job had: “I know that you can do anything and no plan of yours can be thwarted….Therefore, I reject my words and am sorry for them; I am dust and ashes” (42:2, 6). In our relationship to God, we can confidently bring all of our doubts and struggles to him, but we must always trust that the Lord is just and capable of doing what he wants. Even when we do not understand why our spouse is suffering from prolonged illness, we are threatened by unemployment, or we are dealing with the death of a family member, the Lord is just.

In theological conversations I am often tempted to feel that I must know every single answer to every single question. I am afraid that a person is going to ask me about an obscure passage from the Old Testament that I haven’t studied very much, and I’m going to have to confess, “I don’t know.” The book of Job frees us up in our theological conversations to be able to confess that very thing, though. When Job’s friends first came to Job, they sat in silence with him for seven days. Those were the best seven days of Job’s mourning, and it’s because at that point both Job and his friends were willing to live in the fact that they didn’t understand why Job was suffering. In fact, the Lord rebukes Job’s friends for not speaking the truth to Job concerning his suffering (42:7)! In the battle of theologies, we must be willing to confess when we don’t know the answer, because sometimes our theological ranting can lead someone into more error than truth. We must have a posture of humility to counterbalance our confidence in God’s presence.

My prayer is that the Lord would help us live in the tension between confidence and humility. My belief is that as we bend the knee before the Suffering Servant and Risen King, we will be able to see that these two postures are one and the same because they are embodied simultaneously in our unblemished King Jesus.

Grace and peace, brothers and sisters.

My Misconceptions about the State of Israel

Experiencing any culture for the first time can always be a shocking experience. I felt like my time in Israel was especially jolting because I had encountered a form of Israeli society in the Bible. It was too easy to import many of my presuppositions onto Israel. Here are a few examples of the misconceptions I had concerning Israel, and the truth of the matter I discovered.

  1. Only Jews live in Israel

Isn’t Israel supposed to be the homeland for the Jews? Therefore, only Jews should live there, right? On the contrary, Israel contains diversity within its population. Just under 75% of those living in Israel are ethnic Jews, while the second largest demographic (around 21%) are the Arabs.

So what’s the big deal? Why does it matter that not everyone living in Israel is a Jew? Israel seems to exist in perpetual conflict with herself because of the people living within her borders. Arabs are those who lived in the land of Israel (formerly known as the land of Palestine before the founding of the state of Israel in 1948) before Jews started immigrating there in the late nineteenth century. As can be inferred from the statistics above, the fact that so many Arabs still live in Israel to this day means that many are not willing to give up their land just yet. This reality brings with it conflict and racial tension.

  1. Everyone in Israel is religious

Maybe you were confused when I said that the majority of Israel’s population is comprised of “ethnic Jews.” “An ‘ethnic Jew’, you say? I thought Judaism was a religion, not an ethnicity!” Well, yes; Judaism is a religion, but just because a person is Jewish does not mean that they practice Judaism. A person is considered a Jew if they trace their lineage back to Abraham and are originally from the land of Judea (JEW-de-a). Jewishness is usually an ethnicity, not necessarily a religion. Although, a non-(ethnic) Jew can also be considered a Jew if they convert to the religion of Judaism.

Therefore, in Israel you can meet a “secular” Jew, a “religious” Jew, or an “ethnic” Jew. These qualifiers are meant to help us understand that not everyone who is born into a Jewish family decides to practice the religion that is connected to their heritage. It is important that you do not assume when talking to a self-identifying Jew that they are religious.

  1. Jews clearly have the sole right to live in Israel

This is one of the most controversial topics surrounding the nation of Israel. Most people believe that since Jews make up the majority of the population in the land of Israel that this is the way it has always been. As mentioned above, modern Jews did not start arriving in the land of Palestine before the late 1800’s. The land was largely populated by a group of Arabs, with only a handful of Jews living in the region. The Arabic exodus from the land of Palestine occurred for a variety of reasons, but one of the major immigrations occurred after the war for Israel’s independence in 1948. As a result of the war, 700,000 Arabs were forced to seek refuge in surrounding countries.

So now there exists two competing narratives concerning who has the right to the land of Israel. Israelis believe that they have the right to the land, appealing to their religious history. Arabs also believe that they ought to live in the land, appealing to their hundreds of years of existence in the land prior to the Jewish immigration. As an example of these two narratives, consider the names that each people group assigns to the 1948 war. Arabs call that war the Nakba (“the catastrophe”), because it was a day of tragedy for them. Israelis named it the War of Independence, since they gained their freedom from this war. This double narrative constitutes the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When approaching this conflict, we must have humility in the face of a complex reality.

  1. The modern nation of Israel was born out of religious fervor

Israel has been in exile for hundreds of years. They lived under foreign rulers for ages. They longed to return to their land, praying that God would give them that which He promised. This is the narrative I received in the Bible, so I believed that this must be the mindset of modern Jews as well.


Israel was born out of a movement known as “Zionism.” While this movement does have its religious proponents, its founders were mainly secular. Most of the early leaders of the Zionist movement were influenced by the haskalah, which “sought to reform the Jewish emphasis on tradition and collectivism and to import into Jewish society a more rational, analytical, intellectual, and individualistic way of life” (Daniel Gordis, Israel : A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, pg. 13). This Jewish reform directly resulted from the Enlightenment of the 18th century. Zionism mainly concerned itself with establishing a national homeland for the Jewish people, since the Jews had been facing violent persecution in their current European homes. It also desired to create a “new Jew,” unlike those Jews who lived like victims to their European colonial powers. This new Jew would be self-sufficient, strong, and powerful. This movement still exerts powerful influence in present-day Israel. Zionism presents a different picture of Judaism than what we are handed in the Bible, because modern Jews have a very different history than the Jews we find in the Bible (2,000 years have passed since the Bible was written!). We must be sensitive to modern narratives surrounding the Jewish people, not just ancient ones.

  1. Jerusalem looks exactly like it did when Jesus was alive

While this final thought is humorous, it is very true. When we entered into the golden city of Jerusalem, I half-expected to see donkeys, wooden carts, people wearing long robes, and lots of hemp sandals. Sadly, I only saw those things while on a tour in Nazareth at a place which was created to look like the Nazareth of Jesus’ day.

Modernity has reached Israel. On our way to the famous Western Wall, we passed Israeli coffee chains, pizza and burger restaurants, and souvenir shops. Our first night out on the town in Jerusalem included youth dancing to electronic dance music on the top of a van. People drive cars! Israelis wear Western clothes. Modernization has come to Israel, causing it to look very different from Jesus’ day.

I share my misconceptions to help you broaden your thinking about the nation of Israel. Sometimes in Christian sub-culture we can get so caught up in our own presuppositions that we don’t consider the reality of a situation. All that I have shared with you is incredibly condensed, but I hope that this post has stimulated you to consider alternate perceptions of the reality in Israel. I pray that these facts will help deepen your theological thinking about ancient, modern, and end time realities surrounding Israel. Many conversations in theology surround the role of Israel in God’s end-time plan, and some of the facts above have caused me to rethink my positions regarding Israel’s role. I also hope that these facts will help you engage political conversations about the nation of Israel in a more nuanced manner. Nuanced thinking destroys false presuppositions and thinking about Israel in new ways helps us engage theology and dialogue better.

When in Israel

I would like to welcome Collin Campbell to the Freshwater Blog. Collin and his wife, Laura, are apprentices at Freshwater and they have been with us since coming to Bolivar three years ago. Collin can often be found behind the drums on a Sunday morning; he loves coffee, travel, reading and discussing theology, and he really loves the newlywed life!

Over the next several posts Collin is going to be writing for the blog to share his insights from their recent trip to Israel. I hope you enjoy reading Collin’s reflections as much as I have, and I trust they will be insightful and meaningful to you. Please welcome Collin to the blog.    – Pastor Dave

One week after returning from our honeymoon, my wife Laura and I found ourselves on a plane once again. This time we ended up in a part of the world that neither one of us would have expected a year ago: the land of Israel. Neither one of us knew quite what to expect from our time in Israel, but neither one of us expected the land to change our hearts so much.

Laura and I returned from our trip a little over a week ago. Many people have asked us how the trip went, and I wanted to be able to share some of the insights we gleaned from the trip for the whole church. In this post I want to explain the nature of the trip so that you can know the context of some of the things I will be reflecting on in later posts.

First, the trip was sponsored by the incredible organization named Passages Israel. Passages exists to educate Christian leaders from the United States about the historical roots of their faith and the modern geopolitical situation in Israel. While in Israel, we split our time evenly between these two topics. We visited ancient sites such as Capernaum, Nazareth, the Upper Room, and the Mount of Olives, being taught about the historical and biblical significance of these sites. These sites in Israel were no farther than a two-hour bus ride from where we found ourselves at any moment, reminding us just how small the space Jesus spent His life in really was.

On the geopolitical side of things, we heard from speakers from all over the spectrum. We heard from Palestinian journalists, a Christian pastor living in Palestine, a member of Israel’s parliament, and others to garner multiple perspectives on the current political conflicts in Israel. It dawned on me during that the land of Israel is inhabited by more than just Jews, and that the Jews compete with other ethnic groups for the right to exist in the land of Israel. Our group also made visits to Israel’s borders with other countries so that the complex political relationship Israel has with her neighbors could be visualized and understood. Prior to this, I was completely unaware that Israel is not always admired internationally.

In the next few posts I will describe some of the reflections I had while on this trip. One will focus on the misconceptions I had about the modern state of Israel, while two others will describe spiritual reflections I had while on the trip. The state of Israel is a beautiful but complex mess, like most of us. My understanding of the modern state of Israel, my theological/biblical stance on Israel, and my personal faith have all been deeply affected and altered by my time in Israel. Understanding this land and its people have deepened my hope in the gospel and made me more aware of my spiritual heritage.  I hope that these posts can function to encourage you and help you understand these things for yourself as well.